Alcohol Affects PTSD, Which In Turn Affects The Former
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
People suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may turn to alcohol in order to cope with their condition, but a new study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology has found that heavy drinking can make symptoms of PTSD worse over time.
The study authors said the discovery of this vicious cycle, which had been suspected but never confirmed, is the result of the first empirical study to look at the effects of the two phenomena on each other.
“College is a time of important developmental changes and a period of risk for heavy drinking, trauma exposure and post-traumatic stress symptoms,” said study author Jennifer P. Read, associate professor of psychology at the University at Buffalo. “Heavy drinking is common on college campuses and related to risk for sexual assault, interpersonal violence and serious injury, any of which may trigger PTSD.”
In the study, researchers looked at the relationships between PTSD and heavy drinking in nearly 490 students as they entered college and at 11 additional points over the next three years.
“We show that alcohol use and associated problems are linked over time to an exacerbation in PTSD symptoms, and that PTSD symptoms show a similar effect on alcohol consumption. Each affects the other,” Read said. “As such, both PTSD and heavy drinking are risk factors for one another, each with implications for the other over the course of college.”
“This information is useful and perhaps imperative for those who assist students dealing with these problems,” she added
The study team looked at the causes and interventions related to problematic alcohol and other substance use in young adults. Previous research conducted by Read has looked into environmental and individual causes of alcohol use, such as how gender and attitudes toward alcohol may account for various actions in a social environment.
In a 2011 study, Read found that about 9 percent of 3,000 college-age participants met the criteria for PTSD, most of whom were women. In a 2012 study, Read and colleagues found that the transition into college is typified by an increase in heavy drinking, drug use and use-related harmful consequences. That study team suggested strategies to mitigate problem substance use and help create a stronger transition into college.
Study author Adela Rendón, from University of the Basque Country, said these damaging effects have never before been documented among young, healthy individuals because previous research has mainly focused on people who had consumed alcohol in an addictive way for many years. These long-time drinkers had typically acquired a range of side effects such as liver damage, depression, cancer and nervous system disorders.
Study researchers focused on heavy alcohol consumption’s impact on the complex of DNA and proteins that make up the contents of the cell nucleus, called chromatin. The study team took nuclei from lymphocytic cells in the blood, which were then extracted and subjected to a process known as electrophoresis.
“The interesting thing is that if the chromatin is not properly compacted, if the DNA has been damaged, it leaves a halo in the electrophoresis,” Rendón said.
The results showed that the chromatin of the exposed group left a small halo, greater than that of the control group, revealing damage in eight percent of the cells in the control group and 44 percent in the exposed group, meaning the exposed group had 5.3 times as many damaged cells.